Welcome to TravelDew

Gabe Millar, founder of TravelDew
Gabe Millar

It is a pleasure to introduce you to TravelDew, a community for leaders in experiential travel.  My name is Gabe Millar and I am eager to hear your stories and learn about how you bring experiences to life.

Experiential travel is an approach to traveling which focuses on experiencing a place by connecting with its history, people or culture.  The opportunities for this type of travel are as varied as the people and places where they are found, they provide insight into the lives of a community through how they work, play, or live (either now or in the past).  Examples from my own adventures include cutting peat in Ireland to dry and burn for fuel, staying in a castle on a ridge top above the Danube River in Germany, boating through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, and learning about Australia’s wine and food through a tour of the Central Market in Adelaide.

TravelDew invites leaders in experiential travel to share their stories, insights, and unique perspectives.  Through these interviews I hope to grow a community that honors the variety of our industry while simultaneously creating the opportunity to learn from each other.

If you are interested in being an early contributor to this community, I invite you to visit the interview page to learn more.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Crystal Blue Savante – Founder of Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures

Enlightened Globetrekker - Crystal Blue Savante

Crystal Blue Savante is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and adventurer. Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, Crystal left the USA in 2012 to pursue her dreams of adventure, freedom, and inspiration. Since leaving, she has lived in Mexico and the Marshall Islands. After writing several popular global articles while receiving lifestyle attention as the traveling Enlightened Globetrekker, Crystal started this eco-conscious travel company. Now, after completing three world tours for the company, Crystal has gotten back to her roots of simple life and is currently living in a coconut hut in the raw adventure capital of the world, Africa. Here she runs the operations base camp for Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures. In Africa, Crystal immerses herself in local culture daily, engages in humanitarian work in a small village, and is world-schooling mommy to River, age 10. Crystal continues to travel the world hosting adventure retreats in an effort to share the beauty of humanity, peace of mind, and the vastness of this incredible earth with guests. Her eco-retreats include yoga, meditation, adventure, and humanitarian projects while incorporating environmental respect, beautiful places, and sacred spaces. They are an opportunity for soul re-balancing, de-stressing, inspiration, perspective shifts, fitness, spirituality, and to experience cultural equality.


Yoga in the ocean
Crystal Blue’s mission is to share adventure and grounded travel with everyone, to enable people to get away, challenge themselves, feel freedom, help populations in need, love life, create friendships, get inspired, get balanced, check in with their hearts, fall in love with nature, respect cultures, realize dreams, follow passions, feel sunshine, forget stress, explore values, and see pockets of this amazing planet that we live on.

How do the experiences you offer at Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of the areas where you travel?

Cultural immersion and getting to know a culture at a deep level are core principles of all of our eco-tours. Instead of just visiting a country and examining the people and the culture, we give our guests the opportunity to actually immerse themselves in the culture and to connect with the people on a personal level. The activities to foster this differ a lot from country to country, but we always make sure to include these elements in our tours. In Nepal, we visit a local school and get to know the kids and the teachers, in Guatemala we spend a day with women and help them color garments, in Mexico we help to cook lunch for students of a local school, in Africa we live with a drum village and support their local village projects.

Embedded is the first hand knowledge that our – often local – guides have about the cultures and countries we visit, this makes for a unique experience everywhere we visit. Especially for the children who travel with us, this is a great way to learn early on that respect and love are the things that connect us and that we all have much more in common than we do differences.

How do the experiences that you offer align with your personal philosophy and background?

I am an anthropologist and have lived and worked with Tibetan refugees in India for a long time. What I learned there is that to get to know a culture and to truly understand it, you need to approach it with a lot of respect and love and be open to experience it firsthand instead of just looking at it from the outside. With the tours we offer at Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures I want to open this door for more people to share the love and happiness that this brought to the lives of me and my daughter. Too many people never have the opportunity to really get to know other cultures and countries, and self, and thus miss out on so many great experiences. We want to share awareness, and the love.

Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures is currently offering trips to Nepal, Mexico, Italy, Greece, and Tanzania.

What is one detail of Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

For me, one of the most important things happening on an Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures Retreat is not only what actually happens while the people are there, but what happens after. In our daily yoga and meditation sessions, we focus a great deal, on the wellbeing of the mind. I don’t want people to only spend a great time while on vacation, but to take those experiences and apply them to their daily lives back home, in order to see the beauty there also, and to be more present and happy always, no matter where they are.

Many guests do not notice until a couple of weeks later, that they changed their attitude towards life after our trip. It’s nothing that we directly influence, but experiencing other cultures, learning about oneself in meditation, and feeling gratitude and love for simple things again, can make a big change in daily perceptions and in experiencing life.

What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize the enjoyment of the experiences you offer.

Well, maybe not really unexpected, but I would say the Yoga mat. Daily yoga and meditation are an important component to our retreats, and I always urge everybody to take part in them, even if the guests don´t have prior experience. Whenever possible we have the sessions outside in a beautiful garden or Himalayan valley field with a view, or on a monastery rooftop under the stars – really a very special experience. The candlelight meditation in the evening is the perfect ending for a day filled with adventures – time to put the mind at ease and calm down to be completely balanced, at peace, and ready for something new the next morning. Our guests also have the opportunity to learn a lot about themselves and to learn techniques that will help them cope better with their – sometimes stressful – life at home. All of this good stuff happens on our mat, our sacred rectangular space in the world, free from physical and spiritual dirt. Those who do not have a mat are more uncomfortable in the elements, and lack their sacred tangible space. Because of this, I make yoga mats mandatory on my trips.

Crystal Blue's background includes years of experience as a Himalayan expedition guide high in the remote Buddhist land of northern India and Tibet in the majestic Himalayan mountains.
Crystal Blue’s background includes years of experience as a Himalayan expedition guide high in the remote Buddhist land of northern India and Tibet in the majestic Himalayan mountains.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?

Our trips are not only a journey to a specific place, but also a journey into oneself. Be open and aware to make the most of your time with us. Use this time to recharge your batteries and refill your heart and mind with new and incredible images and experiences – while at the same time learning to take care of yourself and preserve your energy. The retreats we offer are not normal trips that focus only on physical sites. To really take in the full package, you need to be willing to open yourself and go on the journey within as well. Also, to get out of your comfort zone and engage with the natives you encounter on our trip. The level to which each individual experiences this is up to how far each allows themselves to engage, embrace, and love.

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

I love the fact that more and more families are travelling – often longterm – with their kids to places that were not necessarily considered family destinations a couple of years ago. I have been travelling with my daughter River for the last five years now, and I cannot emphasize enough the benefits this has had, and continues to have, on her. She is growing up to be a true global citizen, knowing and experiencing different cultures, understanding the planet and all people, and having friends from all over the world. She has already developed such a deep sense of respect for others and is growing up to be a strong woman herself – I couldn’t be prouder. And I just love that more and more families are also deciding to show their children this: that there is a whole world out there that can be explored and adventured, that there is another way to be raised, that this world is big and so beautiful, and that all people are equal and interesting, and that there is love in so many places of the world.

Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures - Germany
Group photo from a recent biking, yoga castle retreat in Germany. Everyday began with yoga, followed by biking all day stopping at castles and small villages along the way, arriving at small hotels each evening. The route took them past farmland, through forests, over bridges, through tunnels, past rivers, towns, cows, storks, sheep, horses … and the stunning castles! There were 12 team members: 7 adults and 5 children.

What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel experience?

Be absolutely open and in the moment. Only then you are going to be able to really experience travel on a deep and meaningful level. Forget about your phone, your emails, leave your camera at the hotel room sometimes and just live and enjoy the moment! The best experiences happen, when you just let go of everything and let the universe take over.

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

My business is something that developed from my desire to share our beautiful world, and way of life, with others. It completely comes from my heart, ant I think that is what helps it grow as well. People that travel with us know that our hearts are honest and that we are there to serve, and open up a new way of thinking to people, and that River and I love the countries we visit with all our heart and just want to share our joy in that, as well as our love for humanity. I think that is our secret.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Even when times get stressful, I take time to focus on and center myself. Yoga is something that really helps me with that. Taking those 30 minutes every morning to calm down, find my middle and then start fresh with focus and determination is something that helps me to navigate the sometimes demanding daily life as the owner of a travel company.

Yoga in the mist.
While many aspects of Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures change based on the specific destination, yoga is a core component of all trips.

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided for them.

Many of our guests have emotional reactions to the experiences we offer on our trips. We make sure that the guests get the chance to connect with locals and that makes for many moving encounters. Sometimes people have a very special connection to a place and have waited for a long time to finally visit. When we watched the sunrise over the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, there were more than a couple of eyes that got watery.  Because meditation and yoga play such an important role on our trips, many people also rediscover their connection with themselves on the trip .We are in the business of making dreams come true, whether it be exploring a place someone has waited forever to get to and finally makes it, or if it is the inspiration factor of showing them that, like ours did, their dreams can also come true, so to not abandon their dreams, or identity, or balance, or self-worth. Do not forget about nature, do not get caught up in stressors that don’t serve you, and material items that fill a void of one kind, but not the voids that need filling. Just these reminders to reprogram their lives and get back to simple happiness, that we all seem to forget along the way. This enlightenment, so to speak, is very emotional. And we know we are doing our job, when we see guests cry. Sometimes it is even just when it is time to leave their new global friends that they have bonded with so much on the trip. Or sometimes because a places is just so amazingly beautiful. Whatever it is, tears come for a reason, and we welcome them. Our trips offer a sacred space for tears of all kinds.

Connect:

www.enlightenedglobetrekkeradventures.com
Crystal Blue’s email: crystalblue@enlightenedglobetrekkeradventures.com
Crystal Blue’s Facebook: facebook.com/enlightenedglobetrekker
Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures Facebook: facebook.com/EnlightenedGlobetrekkerAdventures
Crystal Blue’s Instagram: instagram.com/the_enlightened_globetrekker

Bluffworks Original Travel Pants for Men

Bluffworks Original Travel Pants

I love when I have the opportunity to connect with companies that not only have great products, but also have a great story. It has been more than five years since a 40 year old Stefan Loble left his 9 to 5 job pushing papers to become an entrepreneur. If you take the time to check out the blog where Stephan shares insights and stories from his life and business you start to get an understanding of the thoughtfulness and passion with which each Bluffworks product is created. It’s definitely worth checking out. Now on to the review:

Product Details

The Bluffworks Original Travel Pants for men are lightweight, quick-drying, and wrinkle-resistant.

  • 100% breathable polyester. Nylon pockets.
  • Zippered front hidden internal security pocket to deter pickpockets. Fits passport.
  • Rear zippered pocket.
  • Discrete side pocket phone storage, also fits passports and most smartphones.
  • Hidden loop to clip keys or a security badge inside front pocket.
  • Nickle-free jean tack closure.
  • Designed and manufactured in New York City.
  • Machine washable. Line or tumble dry.
  • Available in Regular and Relaxed Fit.

Bluffworks Original Travel Pants for menPros & Cons

There is lots to consider here, let’s start with fit. As noted above, the pants come in regular or relaxed fit, having these two options is key, particularly when the regular fit is described as being slightly larger than a contemporary slim. The relaxed fit work well for me, especially since the fabric does not stretch. The fabric is lightweight, sturdy, and non-stretching polyester. The feel of the material is slightly rough, it doesn’t bother me but I imagine there are some who don’t like it. If you are someone who prefers a really soft material, then definitely consider another option. The Bluffworks Original Travel Pants are lightweight and perfectly suited for warm weather destinations.

The Bluffworks pants are wrinkle free, and the best part is, they don’t use formaldehyde to do it (as many/most clothing manufacturers do). Instead, they are wrinkle free due to the nature of the yarns and weaving. I don’t know the details beyond that, but it seems to work.

The features of these pants stack up favorably against any travel pants on the market that can double as office wear. From quick-dry polyester fabric and nylon pockets to a hidden loop for your keys and three zippered pockets. However, some men may find them to be too dressy and might prefer a more casual style, but keep in mind, just because they would fit in at a boardroom presentation doesn’t mean they are not supremely functional on an impromptu hike through the Scottish Highlands. These may be the most versatile pair of pants I own.

Bottom Line

Like most people, I don’t mind spending extra money for a premium product or experience, especially when it comes to travel. The Bluffworks Original Travel Pants for men fall into this category because they have great fit, fashion, and function. It’s also why they deserve a spot in the bag for your next adventure, have fun out there!

Pro Tip: Speed drying time when doing laundry in the sink

Hand washing your clothes in the sink while traveling is something all of us have probably done, but here is a tip to significantly reduce drying times: before hanging clothes to dry, lay wet garments in a single layer on a bath towel, roll up the garment in the towel, squeezing out the excess water as you go.

Some, but not all, of the products reviewed are provided either free or at a discount.  All reviews contain our honest views and opinions.

Vicky Smith – Founder of Earth Changers

Vicky Smith - Earth Changers

Vicky Smith has worked in tourism for over 20 years, and specifically in sustainable tourism for over 10 years. She has an extensive background in destination marketing and ecommerce, and leading operations abroad and online for major tour operators. Smith’s experience further includes overseeing online travel agents and media in mass market tourism, ski, safari, charity challenges and volunteer tourism, NGOs and sustainable tourism accreditation organisations. She has been a ski guide and resort manager and is a qualified game ranger in Africa. Vicky also voluntarily leads charity challenge and volunteer groups on trips such as hiking up Kilimanjaro, kayaking the lower Zambezi, trekking the Sahara, or helping conservation in the Galapagos. She gained a distinction for her MSc paper, later published and a top 10 download on the Journal of Sustainable Tourism: “Volunteer tourism, greenwashing and understanding responsible marketing using market signalling theory.”

A ski injury in April 2016 followed by reconstructive surgery and a year of hindered mobility led Vicky to her own start-up journey. Launched in March 2017, Earth Changers promotes the most sustainable tourism around the world for life-affirming trips with serious positive impacts.


A walking safari with Maasai warrior guide in Kenya.
A walking safari with Maasai warrior guide in Kenya. This experience takes place at an Earth Changers partner ecolodge in Kenya, it is a Maasai community-run ecolodge that is carbon neutral and provides health and educational support to a Maasai community of 16,000 people.

How do the experiences you offer at Earth Changers give participants a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of the regions where you travel?

At Earth Changers the experiences we promote are pioneering sustainable, transformative tourism for people to find and book trips that truly change the world.

Earth Changers’ whole ethos is about creating the best positive impacts for local communities through tourism.  We start with why – that may be conservation, education, health, water, poverty, energy, livelihoods etc – big issues around the world where tourism can be a force for good. It may be 5 star, or really quite raw. With some experiences, like marine conservation sailing, guests will be hands-on helping, others are just WOW trips – such as a private island in Indonesia – where guests’ interaction with locals is more leisure-based, but the tourism funds the foundation to support the local indigenous cultural preservation. It’s all fun – but not just frivolous.

The common thread is commitment to creating positive impact, first and foremost creating better places for people to live in, and as a consequence, better places to visit, with people at the centre. For guests that translates to a more considered, better quality, deeper and better value experience. It’s transformative for hosts and guests.

How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?

Although I’ve been in experiential tourism for 20 years and responsible tourism for over 10 years, Earth Changers is my own start-up, new this year.  So we’re still very much developing in many ways.

That said, I won’t include just anyone, it’s by merit of being Earth Changers, which means demonstrable results from true commitment to sustainable development through tourism. We get to know our local partners well to discern whether they are appropriate and write extensively about their initiatives and impacts, so it takes time. They also evolve their products, for example our island ecolodge in Nicaragua has just added a private sister island where romantic couples can spend the day totally alone!

Given our purpose, we also keep abreast of how partners’ positive impacts evolve. For example, our partners in Madagascar have recently found species never previously identified before or not seen locally for decades; they’ve expanded rainwater harvesting to 8 more villages; and across a 3 year operation, a whopping 11,000 people (13% of the local town) gained access to improved sanitation.

The experiences we offer there enable lives to be saved, and culture and environment to be preserved on an evolving basis.

Giant tortoise, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Vicky’s most tricky client ever, her mother! Asking her very nicely to please come further away from the giant tortoise, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

Sustainability! A lot of what makes tourism more sustainable is behind the scenes. It’s a complex, often intangible, synthesis of inter-related elements, which makes it hard for people to understand let alone discern what is more sustainable, or not.  That’s where we step-in. We have the specialist expertise to do the research and hold up our curated collection partners as shining lights for guest experience and beacons to be emulated in the industry – so we’re followed by a lot of the industry too.

We’re also fusing what is often charity foundation work with commercial travel operations, communicated all in one place, when usually not presented together. We’re joining dots that others don’t see to demonstrate explicitly what tourism can create and in doing so hopefully help educate. Basically we do the hard work so the customer can rely on our judgement of the best, read all about it if they wish (but don’t have to!), then all they have to do is decide where they want to go, safe in the knowledge the experience is truly positive impact.

Being a responsible business, one of our key elements is transparency. So we don’t just tell consumers our partners are the best – we provide the contextual evidence of the sustainable tourism recipe ingredients – like energy, water, waste, employment, which otherwise may be a bit abstract for many people’s interest. And we tell the stories of people behind the amazing places. How did they came to do what they do, why, and what impact it has on lives.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in an Earth Changers trip?

That we feature life-changing places, with world-changing people, for extraordinary experiences with purpose. It will bring them a different perspective on the world and their place in its great ecosystem and they may never be the same.

Your aspirations for Earth Changers are lofty, how have you been able to distill those goals into action items that can be achieved on relatively short trip?

We’re a curated collection working with the most amazing partners. They are already Earth Changers, and we already have shared values, we just seek them out for inclusion.

We bring what we know together, to be able to spread the word to a wider audience, but the real hard work goes on at grassroots level by our partners in the destinations. They are innovative, have been developing community and conservation support for years if not decades, and often against all odds and naysayers. They have amazing vision, missions and they are the ones who enable locals to set their purpose priorities, create their positive impact initiatives, to empower the people, to be protectors of their places.  They have ongoing sustainability work plans that break down goals into actionable bitesize chunks, which enable guests to see what’s achieved and make it more tangible.

It may sound cheesy but I genuinely love what I do to promote and serve those partners, for all they achieve. I am constantly in awe at their incredible work, commitment and altruism. I only hope I add some value to them by helping educate consumers as to the importance. I just want to bring them more tourism for creating the funds for sustainable development for local communities. They are inspirational.

But it’s not just us or our partners who are Earth Changers.  Guests who take part in Earth Changers trips contribute and facilitate the work so are key to the success of the overall goal, positive impact. Even just by having an amazing trip experience they help change the world. The guests are Earth Changers too.

Earth Changers - Lapa Rios - Costa Rica
One of Earth Changers partner ecolodges in Costa Rica. It offers beautiful, nature-immersed rainforest experiential travel options. Lodge owners built and support a local school, as well as preserving 930 acres of Central America’s last remaining lowland dense tropical rainforest, home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity.

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

Transformative travel of course!

Seriously though, why would you take a trip which creates a negative impact when you can create a positive one? When you can create jobs for people, meaning they can support their families, get access to medical support, clean water, more and better food, education, skills and thus jobs, income; stay at home in villages reducing rural brain, and cultural, drain? Experiencing the people, place and purpose that facilitates that is transformative. And you can have the most amazing vacation for doing so!

I love travel.  So I can’t think of anything more exciting than being able to make the world a better place by doing just that.

What is one insider’s tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

I’d say let go of ego. That goes for everything from trying new food or activities that might make you look silly, to forgetting about appearance. It’s letting go of the need to know, to be fixed and in control. It’s allowing yourself the adventure, of free spirit as much as of travel movement, of getting out of your comfort zone which requires being open minded to different or unusual ways or things. Allow yourself to connect with the people, the environment, nature, the greater scheme of things.

It’s about fully embracing and enjoying the moment, not bringing or comparing experiences from the past, nor having expectations of how things will play out. Accepting what is and going with the flow. That complete openness exposes us to heightened and new sensations and emotions, which can be overwhelming but totally liberating if you go with it. That is pure experience.

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

Our values are the foundation and core to everything we do: Adventure, connection and integrity.

  • Adventure – Not just in terms of travel, but mindset – curiosity and life-long learning about others.
  • Connection – With people, places, purpose, nature, spirituality, between travel and development.
  • Integrity – We have strong ethics, do what we say and say what we do, we’re responsible, reliable and authentic in our business and relationships, and committed to sustainability.

Like our logo, we’re about the heart and soul of tourism. We articulate it in more in our manifesto – if people agree with that, then they are Earth Changers in mindset too.

Microlight flight over Victoria Falls, Zambia, Africa
On a microlight over Victoria Falls, a very powerful and magnetic place.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

That’s tough. There’s not one thing but a fusion of many. But I’d say intuition is massively under-valued, especially in corporate boardrooms. Being intuitive means I’m good with people, gauging situations, a knowing of purpose, and ability to connect and bring many things together: people and concepts, policy and practice, commercial and not-for-profit, online and offline.

Success also comes from having strong values; Sheer and utter graft; commitment in loyalty and time, faith and conviction in what I am doing; wisdom from personal experience, awareness, consideration, being very grounded, resilience and always being able to find a silver lining. I have incredible strength and resourcefulness, especially in adversity. It comes in handy for adventure!

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

From a 20 year travel career, that’s a lot! Even speaking at a conference on responsible tourism about my Masters thesis on volunteer tourism I once made a front row participant cry when I made the penny drop on how orphanage tourism leads to child trafficking. And as a charity challenge guide, which I’ve done for 10 years voluntarily, most participants have an emotional point at some time during a trip – pushed to an extreme of challenge, but often doing so during a grieving process – they often have a moment when the realise how strong they’ve been and come through. I count myself incredibly privileged to share such moments in someone’s personal journey.

But what I really love to see is that emotional, moving reaction between guest and hosts. One of my most memorable was on Floreana Island. The first inhabited island of the Galapagos, it’s a 4 hour speed boat trip from Santa Cruz main island, and due to the limited natural water supply, could only ever sustain a community of around 100 people. We think of the Galapagos in terms of its wildlife but rarely its communities. And remoteness means they’re often forgotten by the mainland – which makes it an amazing place to visit and experience the real Galapagos. People often visit by day from boats but rarely stay – so islanders get all pf the negative impacts of tourism but few of the benefits. It’s not easy to live out there – in terms of supplies, education, medical treatment etc. So the National Park ranger, who is the one with the speedboat, ends up being all the emergency services, as well as emergency shopping orders, and voluntary local bar. He opens up his small house, pushes the furniture aside, brings forward the pool table and welcomes everyone to salsa dancing! You go to the toilet and it’s the family bathroom, their toothbrushes on the sink, while the kids sleep in the room next door. One night, after midnight, when guests were having a great time laughing, drinking and dancing with the Ranger host, a visitor arrived in an emergency. One of the islanders had had a heart attack at home and needed to get to hospital. The Ranger is the only one with the speedboat, never mind that he’d been on duty since 7am then opened his house-bar, never mind it would take 4 hours each way and he would arrive back to start work again immediately with no sleep. And it’s then, when the guests see the reality of life in beautiful places, when real connection occurs. We assume they benefit, more often than not they don’t. I think all the guests were at once emotional, dumbfounded and in awe at the ranger, and you see brains whirring – tourism can and should help here.

Connect:

www.earth-changers.com
Vicky’s email: info@earth-changers.com
Earth Changers on Facebook: facebook.com/earthchangers.travel
Earth Changers on Twitter: twitter.com/Earth_Changers_
Earth Changers on Instagram: instagram.com/earthchangers

Homestays

Homestays - The Essence of Experiential Travel

One of the best parts of traveling is that it is easily adaptable and can be made to fit any personal preference. One excellent way to expand your travel horizons and change up the pace of any trip is to vary the type of accommodations that you use. Luxury hotels, hotels, hostels, and homestays are obviously all very different from each other. Apart from variance in their cost, the type of lodging that you choose will also dictate the type of people you interact with, the activities that you participate in, and how much of the country you’ll see. Once I sat down and thought about it, I was surprised at how much accommodation dictates the rest of your trip. Many people know and are familiar with hostels and hotels, but not all are so familiar with homestays.

What Is A Homestay?

A homestay is lodging in which you live in the house of a local family. Sometimes the local family is staying in the house with you while you live there and other times the family isn’t at the house. Depending on your preference, it’s possible to rent a room or whole house/apartment. If you rent just a room it’s more likely that you’ll be staying at the house with a family. Homestays have recently been made popular by the site Airbnb. I know you’ve heard of that company. Airbnb and sites like VRBO, Tripping.com, and HomeAway are all great examples of other homestay lodgings. I personally stay in homestays all the time while I’m traveling. One of my favorites was this homestay we stayed at in Koh Phangan. It was beautiful, relaxing, and made us feel like queens.

Homestays, the essence of experiential travel
More and more business travelers are choosing to stay in hosted accommodation, attracted by its affordability, home comforts and the experience of having a host or family on hand to give advice and local knowledge. Booking statistics from hosted accommodation provider Homestay.com reveal that there is a growing demand from business travelers booking homestays for work-related trips, including an increase year on year for female business travelers. (Source: Homestay.com, 1/27/2016).

Why Try A Homestay?

Homestays have many fantastic features. If you are a frequent traveler and are tired of the rowdiness of hostels but don’t want absolute tranquility. Homestays are the perfect mix of each.

Value For Money

Visiting top destinations like Europe are often very expensive.  A large part of the expense of any trip is accommodation. Hotels are usually expensive. This is mostly due to the additional costs of running a hotel. These expenses can include staffing costs, licenses, and building maintenance among other things. They all add up and result in the client of the hotel paying higher fees than at a homestay. In a homestay, since there usually aren’t any other licensing or staffing costs associated with the house or room. Homestay prices are typically much lower. For example, 1 night in a hotel in London in a hotel costs between $50-$100 a night. In comparison, a homestay via Airbnb will cost $30-$50 a night. As you can see the cost of a homestay is almost half that of a hotel.

Meet Locals

Most travelers would agree that they would prefer to have more meaningful interactions with local people. There are different ways to do meet locals like hanging out at a coffee shop, meeting people at bars, and jumping into pickup games. These are excellent means to come in contact with the local people but all of these efforts require an outgoing, fearless, and enthusiastic attitude, which let’s face it can be hard to muster. Staying a homestay is an easy way to put yourself in a position to meet as many locals as possible; because homestays are where the locals are. You’ll have local neighbors, markets and stalls, bars, parties. Since homestays aren’t on a tourist strip you’ll be immersed in a local experience.

Get Off The Beaten Path

On the same note as above. Homestays make it easy to visit other more local and unexplored parts of the city. Often hotels and hostels are in a central localized location. The center of the city is always full of tourists and tourist attractions, which although they are great to see can be draining to be around. Homestays are always all over any city which allows travelers to explore new neighborhoods and possibly discover new up and coming travel hotspots.

Host Families

Another lovely aspect of homestays are the host families. If you rent a homestay that is just a room in a house more often than not you’ll be staying with a host family. This is excellent news for travelers. As host families are very helpful and will usually show you the great local hangouts. They might even help out your budget by providing meals from the local cuisine. It’s nice to make connections all over the world as it brings our world a little bit closer together. If you get the opportunity to stay with a host family, enjoy every minute of it!

Learn A Language

We all know that the best way to improve our possession of a language is total immersion. Staying at a homestay with a host family who doesn’t speak any of your primary language is perfect!! Time to practice the new language you have been learning! Learning a language takes a long time, and staying in a homestay will definitely give you a running start in improving your language skills and speeding up the learning process.

Build A Lasting Connection

Host families are a great connection to have as you travel and go throughout life. It’s less likely that you’ll have time to build this sort of relationship with your family unless you’ll be there a while. But take it from me it is always nice to have a local who’s got your back. It’s really enjoyable to watch from afar as your family grows and changes. It’s an especially rewarding relationship because it makes the world feel closer and more familiar in these times of strife.

Homestays, the essence of experiential travel
In Malaysia, a homestay program is operated by the government tourism office to provide tourists the experience of life in a kampung or a traditional village. According to their website “the kampungs involved in the homestay programme are committed to ensure that visitors experience village-style living first hand. All kampungs taking part in the homestay programme are carefully selected and comply with strict guidelines from the Ministry of Tourism in order to bring out the best of Malaysia.”

Homestays Are Not For Everyone

Homestays don’t have too many cons, but like with any good thing there are some negative aspects of it too.

Difficulty Finding a Location

It’s a double edge sword staying in a location that’s off of the beaten path. It’s great because you get to see neat places that most tourists don’t get to experience. Homestays can be more expensive to get to and sometimes they can be especially hard to find. For instance, in Marrakesh, Morocco if you want to stay in the old city it can be near impossible to find the location unless you’ve hired a pickup from the airport. This of course will only last until you are more familiar with the neighborhood. Think of this as an upfront cost to experiencing the best parts of the city..

Easily Isolated

One of the best parts of traveling, like we’ve been discussing is meeting new people. Homestays are great at allowing travelers to do if you don’t speak the local language and are more introverted it can be hard to get out of your shell. Even though homestays position travelers to meet others, if you don’t go out of your way to meet new people it can be a bit lonely. There are many factors that come into play with this but staying at a homestay might require going more out of your comfort zone in order to connect with others. This of course maybe part of the reason you want to take this trip, but it’s something to be aware of.

Dos and Don’ts of Homestays

Do’s

Communicate as much as possible with your host family. Find out any rules that they have, for example a curfew at night or what time they have dinner. Find out if they expect you to be at all family functions. If you have any questions about anything make sure to ask.

Express your needs. If you have any sort of special dietary restrictions or preferences make sure to tell your host family or the host of the homestay. Host families are very accommodating as they want to make sure you have an excellent stay, so as long as your requests are reasonable I’m sure they’ll meet it.

Explore with and without your host family. It can be easy to get involved in an open and friendly host family and forget about venturing out on your own. Don’t let this happen to you! As fun and easy it is to travel with them make sure that you get out and experience the city your living in without your host family too.

Research local customs and expectations. Make sure that the clothes you bring on your holiday are acceptable attire for the location you are staying. If you are renting a homestay follow all cultural norms and rules of the house. If you are staying with a host family make sure that you are aware of local familial norms and have questions ready to ask your host family about any cultural norms you don’t understand.

Don’ts

Don’t be a slob. As soon as you enter a new home take note of its general order of cleanliness and make sure to maintain your room, the kitchen and bathroom at these standards. This of course is slightly different if you are renting a room or house as you won’t be expected to clean but regardless be respectful of their home and house. Treat it as nice or nicer than your own place.

Don’t be afraid to try new … foods, styles of dance, languages, and all the wonderful life opportunities that come your way. Some situations like trying a new language may make you feel embarrassed and put you slightly out of your comfort zone, but these experiences are what make your adventure so unique and wonderful.

Homestays, the essence of experiential travel
Homestay is a popular form of hospitality and lodging whereby visitors stay in a house or apartment of a local of the city to which they are traveling. The length of stay can vary from one night to even a year and can be free, in exchange for monetary compensation, in exchange for a stay at the guest’s property either simultaneously or at another time (home exchange), or in exchange for help on the host’s property. Longer term homestays are popular with students that are participating in study abroad programs. Homestays are examples of collaborative consumption and sharing. In cases where money is not exchanged in return for accommodation, they are examples of a barter economy or gift economy. (Source: Wikipedia)

Homestays are more than just an accommodation option. In this time of terrorism and challenging political environments it is all the more crucial that travelers go out of their way to develop relationships with those outside of their regular social sphere. These relationships make the world smaller and safer. This is how we will unite the world and protect ourselves from global warming, world hunger, poverty and other worldwide problems. Next time you are traveling and choosing a place to stay consider a homestay and bring the world one step closer to unity.

Chad Olin – CEO of CUBA CANDELA

Chad Olin is the CEO & Founder of CUBA CANDELA

Chad Olin is the CEO & Founder of CUBA CANDELA. Chad spent his first career working in investment banking and private equity in New York City, before following his true passion of building a travel company that connects people across cultures through authentic and immersive experiences. As Chad tells it: “Our passion and vision is to share off the beaten path experiences and change the world through personal connections and cultural immersion. We design our experiences to encourage guests to be present and live in the moment. There is a very strong connection to wellness and mindfulness in all that we do.”


Havana, Cuba
Passionate about creating rich and meaningful cultural connections, CUBA CANDELA designs authentic and immersive experiences, that will encourage travelers to let go and dive into the unknown.

How do the experiences you offer at CUBA CANDELA give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Cuba?

We love Cuba. The people, the energy… it’s truly magical. That love permeates everything we do at CUBA CANDELA and our journeys embody that passion. Our travelers get to see the real Cuba, the authentic experience, from a local’s perspective. We take them off the beaten path, behind the tourist façade, away from the tour buses, into locals’ homes. Throughout their trip, travelers interact with members of the community and see how the real people of Cuba are and how they live. They get to hear their stories and genuinely connect. When our guests leave Cuba, they walk away with a real, from-the-heart understanding of this once closed island nation. It is not what most people expect and has been a life changing experience for many.

How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?

US travel to Cuba has increased by over 250% since we began operations, making it more challenging for self-guided travelers to experience authentic Cuba. We continuously discover and rediscover fresh and cutting edge experiences to ensure our guests feel that they are getting insider access to the real Cuban experience. Our network has significantly expanded to include an incredible selection of private homes, luxury accommodations and unmatched unique experiences. We offer personally curated, private journeys throughout the island and can handle any and all requests travelers throw at us.

Cuban kids jumping off a pier.
CUBA CANDELA take guests behind the tourist façade to show them the beauty, the magic, and the warmth of Cuba.

What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

Moments of cultural vibrancy are all around you in Cuba. Capturing these moments is so much more than just giving access to a place most tourists cannot go, which we do. But importantly, we consider the context and flow behind every client moment to ensure maximum impact, which is derived from being present and living in the moment. We design our experiences to bring guests into this state of presence. There is a very strong connection to wellness and mindfulness in all that we do.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider traveling with CUBA CANDELA?

It is legal and safe to travel to Cuba! Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world, with some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet. Most Cubans don’t have the array of material possessions or access to things that we do in the States; but they will give you the shirt off their back and try to feed you everything they have in the fridge, literally, they will offer you everything. Life in Cuba is ALL about living in the moment, and enjoying life as much as you can, no matter the circumstance. It’s really extraordinary how Cubans in this way live more freely than we do in the States. Cuba is the human experience stripped raw, free of material constraints, with an abundance of salsa dancing, rum and tropical beaches, but more importantly the things that really matter in life: interpersonal relationships and communities.

Havana, Cuba
Journeys include: accommodation (with breakfast), private car, local host, custom itinerary, curated experiences, reservations at Cuba’s best restaurants, legal expertise, and a Cuba travel handbook.

What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of their time in Cuba?

One thing to bring and one thing not to bring. First, we suggest bringing things to give away. Chocolates are hard to come by in Cuba. A simple token of gratitude can help bridge cultural gaps and language barriers. Bringing something like a bag of Hershey’s kisses or gummy bears can go a long way. Share with your housekeeper to show your appreciation, and for sure the kids will love you! School supplies and sporting equipment are another great thing to donate. What to leave behind? Expectations of connecting to the internet. Cuba is about being present. Embrace digital detox, and you’ll feel more connected interpersonally.

Tell us about the legal challenges of offering trips to Cuba, what do travelers need to know?

It is legal to travel to Cuba! However, tourism is prohibited, and the legal language surrounding the self-licensing can be confusing for travelers. Under the new administration, enforcement of Obama-era regulations has changed. More clients are seeking our assistance to navigate this uncertainty. Informed by our expert legal team, we ensure that clients’ travel complies 100% with US regulations. Our travelers don’t need to worry about the legal headaches.

Live street performance in Havana, Cuba.
Experiences offered include: boxing lessons, horseback riding, private cigar rolling demonstration, salsa lessons with locals, and live street performances like the one pictured here.

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

Adventurous, authentic, immersive and interactive journeys are valued over leisure and traditional luxury, and life-changing experiences are valued over material possessions. More people want to experience new destinations from a local’s perspective. This is very exciting to us because we wholeheartedly believe in the transformative power of human connections and that travelers with these values are making the world a better place.

What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

Allow yourself to be in the moment. Truly. If you are able to disconnect from your everyday mindset—that ongoing to do list we all have, the slew of emails, all the responsibilities—and be present, you can tap into an often-elusive feeling of awakening and inspiration. You just may leave Cuba with a renewed sense of gratitude, a deeper connection to and understanding of your fellow humans, and a totally new perspective on life, the world, and our relationship with it. Also, come to Cuba because the lack of internet will jump-start your immersion!

A sailboat near the fishing village of Cojimar.
Cuba is made up of 4,000 islands, located smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean, with some of the world’s best beaches.

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

Staying true to our core values. We started out with a vision: share off the beaten path experiences and change the world through personal connections and cultural immersion. That vision has resonated deeply with our clients, fueling our growth through word of mouth referrals. It has also allowed us to attract an exceptional and passionate team thrilled to give travelers a truly heartfelt and unmatched experience, unlike the big tour companies.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Being open and able to truly listen. I believe every person we encounter has something to teach us. Setting egos aside and listening allows us not just to learn and grow, but also make the best business decisions incorporating feedback from all levels of our team.

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

We received this unsolicited email from a couple celebrating a big wedding anniversary at 11:15pm the night of their celebration: “Thank you so much for the attention to detail and surprises for our anniversary. Today was a pretty epic day. Hard to express our happiness with today in an email. Simply put it was amazing. The beautiful roses & card, the rum and cigars and cava at dinner was over the top. Thank you so very much for making an already memorable trip even more special. And btw… [your staff] are all rock stars.”

Cuban countryside
Cuba’s spectacular natural beauty comes not only from having some of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches, but also its soaring mountains, rolling green hills, cascading waterfalls, vast farmlands, and swamps teeming with wildlife.

Connect:

www.cubacandela.com
Chad on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/chad-olin
CUBA CANDELA on Instagram: instagram.com/cubacandela
CUBA CANDELA on Facebook: facebook.com/cubacandela

Christine Garvey – Founder of Tuscan Drawing Excursions

Christine Garvey - Founder of Tuscan Drawing Excursions

Originally from New York, Christine Garvey received her MFA from Concordia University Montreal, and BFA from Washington University in St Louis. Her works on paper and installations have been exhibited internationally, including solo exhibitions  with Galerie Circulaire (Montreal), Sur La Montagne Galerie (Berlin),  Jules Maidoff Gallery (Italy), and HERE Art Center (New York).  A long-time lover of Italy, Christine first visited as a student in 2006 and has been addicted ever since. She returned to Florence in 2015 as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Florence University of the Arts, and began her own program, Tuscan Drawing Excursions. Since then, she’s been bringing students from across North America to Italy to learn the history and practice of drawing from observation in the inspiring landscape of Tuscany. When she’s not in Italy, Garvey works as a full-time faculty at the University of Texas at Austin.


Happy sketchers in Santo Spirito Piazza.
Happy sketchers in Santo Spirito Piazza.

How does your Tuscan Drawing Excursion give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Tuscany?

When I started Tuscan Drawing Excursions in 2015, I wanted to share with my students my experience of Italy as an artist. I first visited Italy in 2006 to study and like most young artists, I totally fell in love with it. The art, the culture, the quality of life, (the coffee!) – I was addicted.  When I got the opportunity to go back there in a more full-time capacity as a Fulbright Scholar in 2015, I started dreaming up a creative experience of Tuscany that I wasn’t seeing out there. Italy, particularly Florence, can be touristy but I knew there was another side to it that travelers weren’t experiencing. My course offers a local experience of Florence and Tuscany, while teaching students how to experience the beauty and history of these places through drawing. I see drawing as the ultimate way to practice intentional travel. As a teacher, I share it as a means to observe, appreciate, and connect with Florence’s history and culture in a personal way.

How has the experience that you offer evolved since its inception?

The course changes a bit from year to year, based on our group and my collaborators. This past year we had a home-cooked meal in the studio of local artist Zanbi Lotfi. This was really special – to be surrounded by the works of a talented artist, and hear her talk about her work while she fed us her speciality dishes. We also met with a local winemaker to hear about the history of his land, while tasting his chianti and seeing how it was made. My collaborators offer an incredibly personal and intimate look into their lives and I am grateful to them for this.

A hidden gem drawing spot along the Arno river - under the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci. Photo Credit: Sandrine Delattre.
A hidden gem drawing spot along the Arno river – under the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci. Photo Credit: Sandrine Delattre.

What is one detail of the Tuscan Drawing Excursion that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

The pacing of the week. I think a lot about how a particular drawing lesson connects with the location we are drawing, or the artisans we are visiting. The week builds up slowly so students gain confidence in their skills while becoming more attuned to their environment. By the end of the week students continue drawing beyond our class hours. They’re inspired to keep working at it. It’s so great to see.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider joining you on this week-long guided experience?

You DO NOT have to know how to draw! It’s great if you do, but that’s not exactly the point.  It’s really about putting down your phone and actually looking at something. Really seeing it well. That can be challenging but when you do it, you “own” that thing/place/idea forever. A nice picture on Instagram doesn’t serve you the same way that a drawing does.

I believe that everyone can and should draw, and I teach it as a form of creative mindfulness. Seeing drawing this way has brought a richness to my own life and I’m so thankful to have it as part of my “toolkit,” so-to-speak.

What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?

A really fabulous Fabriano sketchbook. A well-sharpened 2B pencil.

A daytrip to a local Tuscan beekeeper.
A daytrip to a local Tuscan beekeeper. The sunflower honey is worth the protective suit!

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

Travel learning experiences. I love it. I think the idea of trying to hit 5 cities in 7 days isn’t serving people. You don’t learn anything that way. As an educator, I’m interested in presenting a more in-depth experience of a specific place and its history. I think people want this, and want to experience a city through the eyes of locals.

What is one insider’s tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

Open yourself up to something new. Even if you can’t draw/ rock-climb/ play the flute/ weave a basket. It’s about letting yourself fail in order to grow.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Not overthinking it. I would have never started this course without the push of a couple friends and the support of my amazing students. I didn’t have all the details worked out when I put it out there, but I had faith in myself that I’d figure it out. Oh … and a good spreadsheet helped!

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

Our last day together is always an emotional one. I’m pretty sure one of my students almost didn’t get on her plane last class! One of our most powerful days is our private visit to a Tuscan villa. It’s hard not to be moved by the beauty of Tuscany’s hills while drinking wine in a field and drawing. I had to pry some of my students out of the vineyard that day. But this is what I’m trying to cultivate – to get students to want to have a long-term relationship to a place, to want to go back and learn more.

Connect

www.christine-garvey.com/tuscandrawingexcursions
Christine on Facebook: facebook.com/christine.garvey.52
Christine on Instagram: instagram.com/christine.garvey
instagram.com/tuscanydrawingexcursions

Stay Connected

303FansLike
17,605FollowersFollow
4,556FollowersFollow

Don't Miss